Skip to main content

The Productions of Time (SF) - John Brunner ****

When I was in my teens and early twenties, Brunner was everywhere in the SF bookshops. He was a prolific author, and frankly some of his books were poor rushed jobs. But his best were excellent, and deserve to be remembered.

His most famous title is probably Stand on Zanzibar - not one of my favourites, but interesting in its use of news clippings etc to give the book a different feel. It's an over-population book and I was never thrilled by disaster novels. For me, one of his best was The Shockwave Rider. This used Alvin Toffler's extremely popular (and very inaccurate) stab at futurology Future Shock as a model. That part in itself wasn't very interesting, but Brunner gave us images like the computer virus before such things existed and made use of the fascinating if flawed concept of the Delphi principle (the idea that a group of people with no particular knowledge in a subject will improve their response to questions about it if there immediate answers are fed back to the group, which then re-thinks) as a mechanism for government - a really clever idea.

The book I've recently re-read was a much smaller scale work, both physically and in it reach. Called The Productions of Time it features a collection of has-been actors brought together to put on an experimental play. What they don't know is that this is scheme to drive them further and further into their weaknesses to record the experience for an audience from the future. It's not bad as a novel, if not superbly written, but I think it's a great example of the sort of thing that those who criticize SF as a genre don't get. There is some technology (often painfully old-fashioned in its vision of the future: reels of tape? Perlease!) -  but this is entirely a book about people.

Admittedly not all great SF is about people. I was amused to hear the excellent Angela Saini struggling to defend Asimov's Foundation trilogy on that rather smug A Good Read programme on Radio 4. The format of the show requires three people to read each others choices of books, and the arty types were definitely looking down their nose at Asimov's dire characterisation. It's true, he couldn't write convincing characters, especially women - but Asimov is great for his ideas, not his characters. The Productions of Time is the absolute opposite - it really is all about the characters and for me is good example of why you shouldn't pigeonhole SF as all blasters and space opera. I'm not ashamed to say I love the original Star Wars trilogy of movies... but sometimes I want something different, and Brunner could put it in SF with the best of them.

The paperback is out of print, but this is available on Kindle.

Paperback:  
Kindle:  
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Feed (SF) - Nick Clark Windo ****

Ever since The War of the Worlds, the post-apocalyptic disaster novel has been a firm fixture in the Science Fiction universe. What's more, such books are often among the few SF titles that are shown any interest by the literati, probably because many future disaster novels feature very little science. With a few exceptions, though (I'm thinking, for instance, The Chrysalids) they can make for pretty miserable reading unless you enjoy a diet of page after page of literary agonising.

The Feed is a real mixture. Large chunks of it are exactly that - page after page of self-examining misery with an occasional bit of action thrown in. But, there are parts where the writing really comes alive and shows its quality. This happens when we get the references back to pre-disaster, when we discover the Feed, which takes The Circle's premise to a whole new level with a mega-connected society where all human interaction is through directly-wired connections… until the whole thing fails …

The Bastard Legion (SF) - Gavin Smith *****

Science fiction has a long tradition of 'military in space' themes - and usually these books are uninspiring at best and verging on fascist at worst. From a serious SF viewpoint, it seemed that Joe Haldeman's magnificent The Forever War made the likes of Starship Troopers a mocked thing of the past, but sadly Hollywood seems to have rebooted the concept and we now see a lot of military SF on the shelves.

The bad news is that The Bastard Legion could not be classified as anything else - but the good news is that, just as Buffy the Vampire Slayer subverted the vampire genre, The Bastard Legion has so many twists on a straightforward 'marines in space' title that it does a brilliant job of subversion too.

The basic scenario is instantly different. Miska is heading up a mercenary legion, except they're all hardened criminals on a stolen prison ship, taking part because she has stolen the ship and fitted them all with explosive collars. Oh, and helping her train her &…

On the Moor - Richard Carter ****

There's much to enjoy in Richard Carter's pean to the frugal yet visceral delights of being one with England's Pennine moorland. If this were all there were to the book it would have made a good nature read, but Carter cleverly weaves in science at every opportunity, whether it's inspired by direct observations of birds and animals and plants - I confess I was ignorant of the peregrine falcon's 200 mile per hour dive - or spinning off from a trig point onto the geometric methods of surveying through history all the way up to GPS.

Carter is something of an expert on Darwin, and inevitably the great man comes into the story many times - yet his appearance never seems forced. It's hard to spend your time in a natural environment like this and not have Darwin repeatedly brought to mind.

I confess to a distinct love of these moors. Having spent my first 11 years in and around Littleborough, just the other side of Blackstone Edge from Carter's moor, the moorland…